57 starters 18 classified finishers
In spite of the anticipated battle between Jaguar and Ferrari, the entry list did not have quite the same star - studded quality as the previous year. It was however a much more exciting race as only 4 kilometres separated first and second at the finish. The Jaguar was quicker on Les Hunaudieres, (278, 148 km/h) but could not quite match the overall speed of its ltalian rival which almost lost the race in the closing stages due to a soaked ignition wire. FinaIly, Trintignant and Gonzalez came home first at an average speed of just over 170 km/h in spite of the rain. Due to brake, gearbox and transmission problems the 2 teams had only one car each at the finish. Cunningham was again on the rostrum but still searching for that elusive win. The 3 Bristols, which won their class, finished grouped between sevenlh and ninth positions. There were numerous accidents , and no Aston Martins, DB - Renaults, Oscas or Talbots made it to the flag. Once again a Panhard engine won the Index of Performance, DB getting their revenge on Monopole. The start was given by his Highness, Prince Bernhard of Uppe, husband of the Queen of the Nelherlands, who insisted in doing the lap of honour in the winning Ferrari with Maurice Trintignant.
Still the 13.492 km layout but the width of the track between Mulsanne and Amage was increased to 8 metres while the Indianapolis comer was slightly banked. The permanent structures of the village began to take shape.
Minimum interval between refuelling increased to 30 laps ( 400, 760 kms). No restrictions on topping up with brake fluido The multiplying coefficient lor supercharged engines reduced from 2 to 1. 4.
57 cars 5 nations 22 makes
France : 1 B. G. , 1 Constantin, 5 D. B. s, 4 Gordinis, 2 Monopoles, 3 Panhards, 2 HRenaults, 3 Talbots, 1 V. P. Renault. Germany : 4 Porsches.
Great Britain : 5 Aston Martins, 3 Bristols, 3 Frazer Nashes, 4 Jaguars, 2 Kiefts, 1 Lagonda, 1 Triumph.
ltaiy : 5 Ferraris, 1 Maserati, 1 Nardi, 3 Oscas U. S. A : 2 Cunninghams
First official race for the D - Type Jaguars, 3 of which were entered. The engine had been converted to a dry sump oil system and the famous rear fin had been added for straight line stability. The chassis/body unit was in semi - monocoque form. Ferrari's reply came in the form of 3 Tipo 375 Pluses, a bored out version of the 375 MM, wilh a cubic capacity of 4954 ccs and double ignition putting out some 345 bhp. The modified 340 MM from the Cunningham stable had water - cooled brakes (an almost superflous mod as it turned out) and was backed up a pair of 1953 C4 - Rs. The 2 coupe DB3 S Aston Martins had double ignition cylinderheads as had the supercharged spyder, the tearn in addition looking alter the V12 Lagonda and an open DB3 S in American colours lor Carroll Shelby and Paul Frere. The 3 litre Gordini was fitted with disc brakes. The open 2 seater Constantin still had its supercharged Peugeot engine. The D. B team created a surprise by debuting 3 rear - engined ears wilh 747 cc Renault power alongside the 2 traditional Panhard - engined entries. First Le Mans appearance of the 550/4 Porsche Spyders whose 1500 cc engines were reputed to give 110 bhp. First appearance of the CoventIy - Climax engine (in a Kieft). Maserati made their debut in the form of a humble 2 litre private entry painted black as the 3 litre works cars arrived too late.
In what was becoming almost a tradition, Ferrari opened the hostilities as Gonzalez, Manzon and Marzotto set off at grand prix like speeds to make if a Ferrari one, two three at the end of lap 1 with Moss's Jaguar in fourth. At the end of the first hour Gonzalez and Marzotto were still first and second but Moss was now third, Rolt fourth and Manzon back in fifth. However, both the hunter and the hunted ran into problems as the storms succeeded each other during the night. First to go was the Marzotto - Maglioli Ferrari around midnight quickly followed by the Moss - Walker D Type wilh no brakes, and early on Sunday moming the Whitehead - Wharton Jaguar also retired with gearbox problems. Around the sarne time the Manzon - Rosier Ferrari vanished with a broken gearbox leaving the Gonzalez - Trintignant Ferrari and the Rolt - Hamilton Jaguar to battle it out lor victory. The rain grew more and more persistent and with only one and a half hours to go to the finish, the red no. 4 stopped for an agonisingly long pitstop of 7 minutes due mainly to the engine refusing to fire because of wet ignition. The Jaguar shot in at almost the same moment to be sent out again immediately passing the stricken Ferrari to unlap itself. Finally an ltalian mechanic managed to coax the V12 into life and Gonzalez powered back out on to the track. Hamilton then took over from Rolt and upped the pace, while the Argentinian slowed but amid frantic signals from his pit, the Pampas Bull managed to find the resources to hold off the Jaguar and received the chequered flag only 4.09 kms ahead of the Coventry car. The reason for Gonzalez sudden drop in speed was because he had neither eaten nor slept during the whole 24 hours! It was Ferrari's second Le Mans victory while Jaguar would have to wait until the following year to score their third. Overall, the Jaguars were faster (Moss was timed at 278 km/h) but the Ferrari had superior acceleration and better braking. Although finishing in third and fifth places the Cunninghams were unable to match the pace of the leaders. No Astons at the finish, the last one having gone out at around midday. The 1500 cc dass saw a lucky and unexpected win for Porsche as the 2 Oscas, leading by 15 laps, both retired in the last hour. The D. B - Panhard which finished tenth, continued French tradition by winning the Index of Performance.